Wick Communications

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Better engaging readers

In Uncategorized on 7 Sep 2017 at 3:53 pm

I wanted to dedicate today’s Kicker to a couple of relatively new things you can do through TownNews to increase reader engagement.

And why would I want to do that?

You are excused if you roll your eyes at the mention of this year’s metric of the moment. First we chased pageviews, then registered readers and for a while we talked about time spent on the site. Well, this is sort of like that. Smart people now think the most important aspect of your website is how it engages readers. Do they stick with stories, comment on them, share them with their friends? It’s hard to argue with that. The point of journalism is to have an impact on the lives of “consumers” of our “product.”

In order to help readers engage in 2017, we have to be cognizant of aesthetics, particularly on mobile. We’re increasingly visual learners. Fifteen years ago, virtually no one walked around all day, every day with a camera in his or her pocket. Today, everyone has one at all times. That, more than anything, has changed the nature of newsgathering and delivery. Citizen journalists are everywhere and they can publish in powerful ways that the last generation of professional journalists never dreamed possible.

So, these small changes at TN are a big deal. I hope you will read on and experiment with these new tools today. Seriously. Stop what you are doing, go to your asset manager and try to add cover art or a vertical gallery. Takes minutes.



‘A black overachiever’

In Uncategorized on 13 Jul 2017 at 2:18 pm

It is with great trepidation that I choose to write about writing about race. I understand this is a tinderbox topic and that it’s very easy to veer off the page and turn a critique of adjectives and nouns into accusations of racism and worse.

But I’m going to broach the topic anyway, because words matter.

Recently, I had occasion to write a Wick columnist — not an employee, mind you, but a contributor — who had referred to someone as “a black overachiever.” The term was meant as a compliment and the subject was a national public figure. I don’t think the writer intended anything mean-spirited by coupling those words, but it struck me wrong. So I wrote him a note, a bit of it reprinted here:

By any standard, XXXX is an achiever. He is a resounding voice respected by many for his intellect. But by modifying achievement with his “blackness” you A) create the impression that it’s somehow surprising that a black man could overachieve, B) suggest that he is only an overachiever when you consider his race, and C) overemphasize his race entirely. I’m guessing you would appreciate what he said regardless of his race.

To me the test is this: Would you ever write the words “white overachiever?” Would you say, for instance, that Bill Gates is a white overachiever?

To his credit, the columnist wrote me back and admitted that he makes that mistake from time to time. He took the criticism in the spirit that it was intended, even if he didn’t agree with me entirely.

Fair enough.

But he also defended the construction. He said he might refer to a “white overachiever,” for example, in professional sports, because he thinks black folks have a genetic predisposition toward athletics. Which is a whole ’nother topic, as they say. (Whatever the arguments there might be concerning physiology, you would have to take into consideration socio-economic factors, cultural mores, discrimination that precludes success in other avenues and myriad other considerations to have an intelligent conversation about that…) … Read the rest of this entry »

Better phone interviews

In Uncategorized on 6 Jul 2017 at 3:19 pm

Alexander Graham Bell placing the first New York to Chicago phone call in 1892.

Last week, I introduced Luz, our summer intern at the Half Moon Bay Review. Predictably, she’s been teaching me more about myself, our newsroom and our business than I could ever impart to her.

Today, she and I were talking about an unsuccessful phone interview she suffered through. She called a world-renowned science museum looking for information about the whale migration that is making its way off our beaches. It didn’t go well.

As we talked about why that might have been, Luz guessed it was because she wasn’t confident enough and therefore didn’t speak up with her questions. The result was that the expert on the other end wasn’t comfortable and ultimately didn’t provide any useful information for whale-watchers.

As Luz found out, it’s not enough to call an expert and ask them to talk about whales. That is probably obvious to the professional reporters reading these words, but it wasn’t obvious to her. That’s because I didn’t properly prepare her for the call.

It got me thinking about all the reasons phone interviews fail.

Lack of preparation. It’s easy to find someone on the internet who seems like a great source for just about anything. In fact, it’s much easier to find a source than it is to think about what you want to know from that source. Luz and I would have done well before her call to brainstorm ways to make the best of it. That requires some reading, which would have opened us up to questions like, why do there seem to be more whales migrating close to shore in the last couple of years and what are the rules governing human interactions with endangered species? … Read the rest of this entry »

A newspaper is born

In journalism, Uncategorized on 5 Jan 2017 at 12:05 pm
Brinkley, Ark. Courtesy Wiki Commons

Brinkley, Ark. Courtesy Wiki Commons

Here is to Hayden Taylor. May he bring journalism to Brinkley, and new ideas to our industry.

I love this story by Stephen Steed of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat and Gazette, outlining plans of an ambitious 19-year-old bent on reviving a community newspaper that was almost lost to a fire last month. (I’m interested in the subject matter, of course, but Steed provides wonderful detail throughout and reveals a real empathy for the town and its people.)

Taylor confesses he has little journalism training. I am sure there was a day when I would have poo-pooed any plans of a precocious kid who says he will just get a couple books and learn how to do this reporting thing, but that day has passed. We need ambitious, audacious young people in this business more than we need book-learning. We have long passed being able to lean on dogma about the way things should be done.

I might question his decision to axe the opinion page (particularly since his dad is on the city council and stands to benefit from a lack of local opinion), but mine isn’t the last word on such things. I’m very sure Taylor — whose family has been in Brinkley for five generations — knows the community better than I.

Importantly, for me, Taylor says he understands his contemporaries lean on Facebook for their news. He says he doesn’t think that is good enough. That is very encouraging. Because it’s not good enough. And we should encourage any teenager who says as much and puts his money where his mouth is.

You go, Hayden Taylor. Best of luck with the Monroe County Herald.


Worried about ‘fake news?’

In journalism, Uncategorized on 17 Nov 2016 at 4:46 pm

Perhaps the hottest topic in our industry is “fake news.” You know what it is because you probably see it in your Facebook feed or Google search all day long. Hillary Clinton promised amnesty for undocumented immigrants who voted for her. World War III is days away. John Podesta is a witch.

Most of these things are pretty obviously not true. The trouble comes when you are in your own echo chamber and what you read generally confirms what you want to believe. Then discerning the difference can be a matter of will.

A lot of smart people think this is a big, big problem for real journalists. Is real journalism devalued when it comes amid so much fakery? If people can’t tell the difference, will they just choose to believe what they want to believe?

Jack Shafer says no. He’s a well-known media critic who notes that there is nothing new about fake news. Politicians and their minions have been faking stories about the opposition for as long as there has been ink and paper.

That is true, but I tend to believe there is something more pernicious happening today. I think it has to do with the viral nature of media now. Shafer points out 18th century hoaxes about man-eating trees and monkeys trained to pick cotton, but those stories weren’t shared millions of times in an hour. They didn’t take on a life of their own. … Read the rest of this entry »

1,000 and counting

In Uncategorized on 10 Dec 2015 at 12:24 pm

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 10.39.05 AM

This is the 1,000 post on The Kicker. And that does not include the weekly “our best” and “their best” features that would bring the total well over 1,600.

No wonder I’m so tired.

In announcing the new blog in September 2008, I wrote that the idea here was (and remains) a Friday reflection on our business. We’re so busy all the time. There is precious little space for us to think about the calling that we love and how to do things better and not worse. I hope this has been one such space.

Too often, The Kicker consists of my ramblings on something topical – coverage of terrorism, censorship on college campuses or some such. While I’m gratified to able to express my thoughts on these journalism issues, I think it works best when I am able to identify a real-world problem at one of our sites (as I did here, here and here) and offer some guidance or observation. Perhaps better yet: Sometimes smart people among us offer their own insights on The Kicker and I would love to have more of those. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

It has been particularly gratifying to spotlight our best from week to week. I usually also give the “winner” a shout-out on Twitter and I’ve heard that folks appreciate the recognition when sometimes it seems that is not coming as frequently it is deserved.

Read the rest of this entry »

Time to win a Wicky!

In Uncategorized on 18 Jun 2015 at 1:18 pm
This is not a Wicky Award. But it's cool, no?

This is not a Wicky Award. But it’s cool, no?

Ah, the birds are chirping, baseball’s all-star break is nearly upon us and the kids are … hey, where are the kids anyway? Haven’t seen them since school let out. That means it’s time once again to announce the coming of the Wick Editorial Awards.

This year, as last year, there are six categories – Community Pride, Enterprise, Breaking News, Feature or Sports, Editorial Comment and Online Reporting. I’ll spell out the criteria for each categories, the deadlines and so on in a separate email.

Today is about convincing you that it’s worth your while.

Last year, about three in four Wick newspapers sent entries. That’s good, but I want you all to seek this recognition. The re-imagined Wickies are in their third year. It’s been an honor for me to serve as a judge and I’ve been blown away by your work. I’ve seen a real commitment to lead your community in your opinion pages. I’ve seen enterprise entries that took weeks to report and write and brought unique stories to readers that are surely famished for them.

But this isn’t about treating me. This is about recognition for your work. Again this year we plan to show off the winners in a special edition of The Eagle. It will be distributed to all of your peers in the company and rest assured the company brass is paying attention. … Read the rest of this entry »

Do you need a new title?

In Uncategorized on 28 Aug 2014 at 1:36 pm


Does your job title matter?

Perhaps. Traditionally it mattered. The pay scales at many businesses reflect titles and descriptors like “senior” and “vice president” and “director.” Bank loan officers surely treated CEOs with more respect than fry cooks. Now, of course, the tech savants spend days trying to outdo themselves with stupid, meaningless titles that can only lead to confusion in corporate halls. Microsoft has an “Innovation Sherpa.” There is a “Digital Prophet” at AOL. Chances are, if you don’t know what the title means, there ain’t much real work attached. (If you have too much time on your hands, generate your own title...)

What about journalism titles? Does it really matter whether you are called “managing editor” or “editor?” About the names of beat? Do they matter?

I ask because of this collection of thoughts from Ken Doctor at the Nieman site. It riffs off Gannett’s “newsroom of the future” idea.

I offer two thoughts:

First, I think some journalism titles are stifling. A “cops reporter” is only going to write breaking news about crime. There is a place for that, but what if you called her “health and safety reporter” instead? If that was her title, would she have a wider understanding of her role and perhaps offer stories that hadn’t already been tweeted before she picks up the phone to find out what happened at the crime scene? I like relatively open-ended beat titles – community, education, family, safety – rather than cops and courts and government. I think it leads to fewer process stories and more stories about people. … Read the rest of this entry »

Make email newsletters count

In Uncategorized on 30 Jan 2014 at 10:03 am

email newsletters

Some of us send out email newsletters as part of our efforts to expand our reach and give readers the very latest and best that we have to offer. In fact, most of you are reading these important words after clicking the link on an email newsletter announcing that The Kicker is fresh for this week.

They are an art unto themselves. A lot of smart people put a lot of thought into the look of these emails, the message they convey, even the typeface they use. One of those people is Sarah Marshall. She is the social media editor for the Wall Street Journal, among other things. (Follow her on Twitter @SarahMarshall or Sarahmarshall3 on Tumblr.)

This week, on the occasion of notable achievements from a couple of web-based mobile news aggregators, Marshall gave some tips on making the best email newsletter. I won’t run through them all. You can read them yourself.

But I wanted to point out a couple that may be less than obvious.

I use Mail Chimp to send out The Kicker email blast. I know many of you are familiar with the platform. You can search for it on Google. It’s not difficult. Any sixth-grader can send out a mass email this way. It takes about 20 minutes to set it up with the appropriate links, and I try to do it early Friday morning. Why? Well, it’s not an exact science, but I figure that way people all across the United States have an opportunity to see it before they leave for the weekend. I send it on Friday because it seems like an appropriate time, at the end of the work week, to take a step back and consider the wider journalism world. Marshall agrees: Timing is important on these blasts. … Read the rest of this entry »

Crash test dummies

In Uncategorized on 23 May 2013 at 2:48 pm


The truth about The Truth About Cars kerfuffle is that I’m not sure I know what it’s about. Let me explain as best I can.

It appears that thetruthaboutcars.com Editor Steven Lang quit in protest of a snotty little piece of non-journalism under the byline of his boss, Bertel Schmitt. Schmitt was reporting (actually, that’s way too charitable a word. He was really just adding snark and regurgitating what was already reported) on crash tests that showed those small SUVs so many of us own aren’t as safe on the roads as we may like to believe. The only “value” Schmitt added was disparaging women and stereotyping the vehicles’ drivers. In the process, Schmitt managed to use the words “dyke,” “post-menopausal lesbians” and some others I won’t reprint.

Keep in mind, this is a story about car crash tests. … How he got to lesbians, I’ll never know.

Anyway, Lang indicated on Facebook that he quit as a result.

So, to recap, the editor-in-chief managed several paragraphs that did not advance his story whatsoever, undoubtedly offended many people and lost his right-hand man. All in a day’s work.

I mention all of this only to suggest that mindless riffing on the news of the day that includes your own biases is really never a good idea. Before you call someone a “dyke,” or anything of the sort, think it all the way through.